Badgers’ Tollefson, Bellinger Square Off in Locker Room Bout

For the Boston Badgers, it’s been a frustrating season.  The Badgers spent a considerable amount of money in free agency, acquiring a passel of veterans in an effort to jump-start their growth from last year’s expansion beginnings.  In the first quarter of the season, it appeared that their investments had paid off, as the team got off to a respectable start close to the .500 mark.  After that point, though, Boston’s inexperience and lack of offensive firepower caught up with it.  The team sank to the basement and stayed there; they’re on track to finish with a record only slightly better than last year.

As the Badgers’ record has sagged, so has locker-room morale.  Sources close to the team describe a tense situation riven with factions, particularly between the older and younger players on the team.  Coach Cam Prince has reportedly struggled to patch the divides on the team.  And this week, the tension boiled over into a locker-room fracas that reportedly included actual fisticuffs.

Graham Bellinger

The alleged donnybrook took place after Sunday’s 6-1 loss to the Hamilton Pistols.  While the loss couldn’t be pinned on any one person, D Graham Bellinger had a particularly rough game, committing a couple of costly defensive-zone turnovers that led almost directly to Hamilton goals.  In the quiet postgame locker-room, Bellinger was getting dressed and talking with a couple teammates about what nightclub to go later in the evening.

Bellinger’s breezy talk irritated D Bjorn Tollefson, once of the free-agent veteran that Boston signed in the offseason.  Tollefson is a veteran of Ron Wright’s Michigan teams, and is known for his stern and businesslike demeanor.  Tollefson walked over to Bellinger and barked, “Maybe instead of going to the club, you should go to the rink and practice the outlet pass.”

Bellinger’s head snapped up, and he replied, “What the [heck] are you talking about?”

Bjorn Tollefson

Tollefson said, “You should get your head out of your [butt].  You party all the time, you cannot play defense, and you are a killer to the team.”

Bellinger stood up and snapped back, “Maybe you should quit riding my [butt] and mind your own business for a change.  You’re a washed-up old [expletive].  All you do is complain, and I’m sick of your [crap].”

Tollefson shouted, “[Screw] you.  Must I make you listen with my fists?”

Bellinger replied, “Go on, skin that smokewagon and see what happens, you fat [expletive]!”

Tollefson then lunged at Bellinger, and the two grappled and traded punches.  After a minute or so, their teammates were able to separate them.  Prince came out of his office, saw what was going on, then went back in his office and shut the door.  The locker room remained closed to reporters for a half-hour after the scuffle, and neither Tollefson nor Bellinger was around by the time the press entered.

Both players, and Bellinger in particular, looked a bit banged up during the next day’s morning skate.  Bellinger played in the next game.  Tollefson sat out, in what was believed to be a team suspension.

The Badgers were tight-lipped about the incident.  “What happens in the locker room, I don’t talk about that,” said Tollefson.  “It is only inside the family.”

“It’s a long season, and stuff happens sometimes,” Bellinger said.  “It’s over.”

Cam Prince

“A lot of people think they know what happened in our room, but they don’t,” said Prince.  “There’s a lot of bogus stories I’m hearing about this so-called ‘brawl.’  It’s ridiculous, is what it is.  These are professional athletes.  Tempers run high sometimes, but that’s it.  Sorry, folks, nothing to see here.”

Boston’s season is almost over, so it seems likely that there will be few long-term ramifications from this incident.  If anyone does pay for this, however, it’s likely to be Prince.  If the Badgers front office decide that the coach is unable to improve the team’s problematic chemistry, they might decide a new bunch boss in order.

Unsurprisingly, Prince declined to discuss whether he expects to be fired.  “I’m not even going to dignify that with a response,” the coach said in response to a question about his job status.  “Shame on you for asking.”

Advertisements

SHL Player of the Week – Week 13

In an unprecedented move, the SHL named the entire Michigan Gray Wolves‘ defense as its Players of the Week.  “Up until now, we’ve always limited the Player of the Week honor to a single player,” said SHL Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “But we felt that Michigan’s defensive work needed to be recognized, and we couldn’t single out any one player for it, so we’re recognizing them all.”

The Wolves’ blueline corps – which includes “Mad Max” Madison, Fritz Kronstein (who won solo Player of the Week honors three weeks ago), Frank Mudrick, Brooks Zabielski, Sam Bergdorf, Bjorn Tollefson, Lyndon Bullock, and Cedric Berlinger – were in top form with the playoffs approaching.  Michigan allowed only two goals in their four games this week, thanks in large part to the shot-suppressing ability of their defenders.  The Wolves’ opponents averaged less than 16 shots this week.  In Sunday’s showdown against Hamilton, a potential Finals opponent, Michigan held the high-flying Pistols to only 19 shots in a 3-0 win.  Then in consecutive games against Dakota and Kansas City, the Wolves limited their opponents to 12 shots each, allowing them to edge the Jackalopes 1-0 and stop the Smoke 4-1.

“Our core identity is defense,” said Wolves coach Ron Wright.  “And it says a lot about the group we have here that even though I’ve been rotating guys in and out this week, giving the starters a little rest, we haven’t missed a beat.”

2016 SHL Finals – Game 5

Washington SmallMichigan SmallWASHINGTON GALAXY 3, MICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 2

The Washington Galaxy aren’t going quietly.  Facing elimination in the SHL Finals, the Galaxy withstood an onslaught of shots from the Michigan Gray Wolves and struck in the final minute to steal a 3-2 win, living to fight another game.

“Not dead yet, boys!” crowed Washington coach Rodney Reagle after the game.  “Just like the Bee Gees, we’re stayin’ alive!”  The coach then proceeded to demonstrate his best disco moves.

The Wolves did their best to send the Galaxy packing.  They came out firing from the start of the game, and wound up outshooting Washington 33-22.  But Galaxy netminder Roger Orion stood tall amid the barrage, turning aside 31 shots and outdueling Michigan’s Dirk Lundquist.

“All series, we’ve been hearing about how, oh,Lundquist is so great, Lundquist is God,” said Washington RW Jefferson McNeely.  “But you know what?  Roger’s a damn good goalie too.  He doesn’t get the headlines Lundquist does, but he can be just as clutch.”

Michigan actually drew first blood in this game, with RW Oskar Denison drilling one home just inside the left pipe late in the first period.  “I was not expecting it to go in,” admitted Denison.  “I was hoping to have a big rebound that someone could put in.  I got lucky.”

Washington was able to get even early in the second.  After Wolves D Bjorn Tollefson was penalized for high-sticking, Galaxy RW Sindri Pentti cashed in on the power play, going five-hole on Lundquist.  Washington went into the locker room after two periods tied at 1, despite getting outshot 23-14.  “We were pretty anxious between periods there,” said McNeely.  “Yeah, it was tied, but [the Wolves] were really in the driver’s seat as far as puck control and zone time.  We knew we needed to slow them down and break their rhythm.”

The Galaxy succeeded in disrupting Michigan’s offensive flow, narrowing the shot gap to 10-8 in the third period.  A little more than five minutes into the third, Washington C Eddie Costello and LW Casey Thurman broke away on a two-on-one, with Thurman going top shelf to give the Galaxy their first lead of the game.  The lead was fairly short-lived, as Wolves C Hunter Bailes deflected a shot past Orion a little more than four minutes later.

The latter half of the third period was frustrating for both teams, as neither side was able to generate much offensive action.  “It kind of felt like we were both playing not to lose,” admitted Tollefson.

But with less than a minute left in the game, Thurman shoveled a sharp-angle shot past Lundquist, and the sellout crowd at Constellation Center exploded as Thurman did a celebratory belly-flop on the ice and his teammates banged their sticks against the boards.

“It was a tight game, and you knew the game-winner wouldn’t come easy,” said Thurman.  “But I think the fact that it was do-or-die, that gave us that little extra edge we needed to get over the top.”

The good news for the Wolves is that they still have a 3-2 series lead, and the action shifts back to Cadillac Place, where they drubbed Washington twice by a combined 6-0 margin.  But there’s also cause for Michigan to be anxious, as they’re missing a pair of key forwards, Vladimir Beruscko and Warren Marlow.  In this game, the Wolves were forced to give ice time to Kimmo Eliasson, a street free agent who signed an emergency contract with the team at the start of the Finals.

Wolves coach Ron Wright said it’s no time to panic.  “We’ve got to remember what got us here,” Wright told reporters.  “We’re not a team that relies on any one star to succeed.  We rise and fall as a team, and that’s how we’re going to win this.”

Continue reading “2016 SHL Finals – Game 5”

2016 SHL Finals – Game 4

Michigan SmallWashington SmallMICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 3, WASHINGTON GALAXY 2 (OT)

Whatever else you might say Game 4 of the SHL Finals, it finished off with a bang.  The first three games of the series have followed a familiar pattern: two periods of tense, grinding, defense-first play, followed by a third period of wide-open firewagon hockey.  In Game 4, the high-flying action was compressed into the final 5 minutes, as a slow-paced game turned frenetic at the end.  It took more than the allotted 60 minutes, but ultimately the Michigan Gray Wolves, thanks to a little-used reserve, pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory over the Washington Galaxy.  Michigan moved within a single win of the Vandy, but it came at a steep cost, as the Wolves lost a key offensive playmaker in C Warren Marlow.

“We got the W, and that’s what counts the most,” said Michigan coach Ron Wright.  “But losing Warren… that’s a real blow.”

The Wolves notched their win thanks to a little-used reserve.  Under ordinary circumstances, F Isaac Preston wouldn’t be expected to play at all in the Finals.  He played in only 17 games this season, recording 3 assists and no goals.  But when LW Vladimir Beruschko suffered an injury in the last week of the season, Preston was thrust into a starting spot.

“My first priority was, don’t embarrass myself or the team,” said Preston.

The reserve forward made very little impact through the first three games.  But in this game, Preston came through when it counted.  About a minute into overtime, Michigan D Bjorn Tollefson faked a slapshot from the left faceoff circle.  He got Galaxy G Roger Orion to commit, then slid a pass over to Preston.  With a wide-open net, Preston buried the game-winning shot under the crossbar.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been that open, not even in practice,” said Preston.  “If I’d missed it, I’m pretty sure my teammates would have beaten me to death.

Preston’s winner capped a flurry in the final five minutes of frenzied action, which stood in stark contrast to most of the play up to that point.  Michigan struggled all game to enter the zone and get shots on net, much as Washington had done in the first two games.  Michigan got off only 20 shots in the entire game, including a season-low four in a brutal second period.  “It’s like they watched our game film from the first two and turned our own game plan against us,” said Wolves C Hunter Bailes.

The Galaxy, meanwhile, were able to generate more offense, but had a devil of a time getting pucks past Wolves goalie Dirk Lundquist.  “You can’t fake him out, you can’t sneak one under him, you can’t fool him, nothing,” said Galaxy LW Casey Thurman.  “I think he must be able to read minds or something.”

Late in the first period, Washington C Eddie Costello beat Lundquist on a breakaway to give the Galaxy the lead.  Early in the third, Bailes struck on the power play to tie it up.  But that was it for offense… at least until the final five minutes.

With three and a half minutes left in regulation, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz accidentally caught Marlow under the eye with a high stick.  On the resulting power play, Wolves C Wesley Knight deflected a slapshot past Orion to put Michigan ahead 2-1.

“That’s on me,” said Camernitz.  “In that situation, late in a close game, I can’t take a penalty like that.  Got to maintain better control of my stick.”

A disconsolate silence fell over Constellation Center, as the Galaxy seemed doomed to a heartbreaking defeat.  But in the waning seconds of the game, Washington launched a final desperate rush.  A Thurman slapshot got lost in a scrum in front of the net.  The puck bounced between bodies as Lundquist tried to get a glove on it.  Finally, with four seconds left, the puck squirted behind Lundquist and over the goal line.  Wright challenged the goal, claiming that a Galaxy player had kicked it in.  After several minutes of review, the referees upheld the goal, as the crowd exploded with delight. Costello got credit for the tally.

Fortunately for the Wolves, they prevailed in overtime, although with a cost.  Marlow made the initial pass that led to Michigan’s winning goal, but he paid for it when Galaxy D Rusty Anderson laid a devastating hit on him and Marlow’s head hit the ice.  After the game, he entered the league’s concussion protocol.  Wright sounded doubtful that his second-line center would be able to return in the series.

“We’ll have to reevaluate him tomorrow and see where things stand,” said the coach.

The Galaxy suffered a loss as well, with D Leonard Wright being sidelined after taking a rough open-ice hit.  He suffered an upper-body injury, and Washington coach Rodney Reagle confirmed that he is likely to miss the rest of the series.

The Galaxy face an uphill battle, having to win the next three games in a row with half of their top defensive pairing on the shelf.  “I’ve already got Bartlett’s Book of Inspiring Sports Cliches by my bedside,” said Reagle.  “I’ll be working on my big speech tomorrow morning.”

Continue reading “2016 SHL Finals – Game 4”

2016 SHL Finals – Game 1

Michigan SmallWashington SmallMICHIGAN GRAY WOLVES 4, WASHINGTON GALAXY 0

Despite his team coming into the SHL Finals as a strong favorite, Michigan Gray Wolves coach Ron Wright stressed the importance of starting the series strong.  “In a short series, it’s all about momentum,” said Wright.  “Fall into a hole, no matter how strong you are, and it can be impossible to get out.  I want to see us make a statement right away.”

In Game 1, the Wolves did exactly what their coach wanted.  They made about as strong a statement as possible, seizing control of the game in the first period and cruising from there.  Behind the brilliant play of G Dirk “The Bear” Lundquist (31 saves), Michigan put up a 4-0 shutout that left the visiting Washington Galaxy dazed and confused.

“Man, they really came to play,” said Washington LW Casey Thurman.  “We’re really going to have to step it up in the next game, or we’re just going to get run over.”

The Galaxy came into the game determined not to let Michigan push them around.  “We know the Wolves play a physical game,” said Galaxy D Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom.  “We wanted to show them that we’re not scared.”

As a result, Washington started the game in a feisty mood, throwing elbows and hips at the Wolves.  Less than eight minutes into the game, Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz took exception to a hard check into the boards by Wolves D Bjorn Tollefson and came up swinging.  Both players wound up getting majors.

Washington’s aggressive play wound up getting them into trouble later in the period.  Rookie D Grant Warriner was whistled for high-sticking with about six minutes left in the first period.  The Galaxy managed to kill off that penalty, but no sooner had they done so than D Kevin Buchanan was hit with a double minor for spearing Michigan C Hunter Bailes.  The crowd at Cadillac Place booed Buchanan lustily, but the boos turned to cheers a couple minutes later when Michigan D Fritz Kronstein went top-shelf on Washington netminder Roger Orion to put the home team on the board.

“I saw a little daylight and I took advantage,” said Kronstein, who was Michigan’s first-round pick in this year’s draft.

Less than a minute later, the Wolves doubled their advantage as LW Jorma Seppa, filling in on the top line due to Vladimir Beruschko‘s injury, scored on a wraparound.

“That second goal really threw us off,” said Hogaboom.  “We’d been holding our own all period, then boom-boom, we’re in a hole.”

The Galaxy hoped just to survive the rest of the first and head into the locker room down 2-0, but Michigan RW Oskar Denison scored on a slapper in the waning seconds of the period for a three-goal advantage.

“At that point, we knew we were basically done for,” said Camernitz.

The rest of the game was somewhat anticlimactic, highlighted by one more goal (by Wolves C Warren Marlow in the third period) and one more fight (between Hogaboom and Michigan D “Mad Max” Madison).  The real star of the day, though, was Lundquist.  The goalie flashed his athletic prowess making some brilliant saves to keep the shutout intact.  In the second, Lundquist made several brilliant saves to help Michigan kill off back-to-back penalties.  In the third, he made a tremendous glove save to stone Washington C Eddie Costello on a breakaway attempt.

“The Bear’s motor is really incredible,” said Wright.  “Even after the outcome of the game wasn’t in doubt, he was still in top form, still hustling.  If he keeps up this level of play, it’s going to be a real short series.”

After the game, Galaxy coach Rodney Reagle sought to put the game behind him.  “I’m not going to watch the film of this game,” said Reagle.  “I think I’m going to burn the film, in fact.  If I want to watch something, I’ll watch Die Hard instead.  At least that one has a happy ending.”

Continue reading “2016 SHL Finals – Game 1”

Hogaboom Goes Hog Wild, Gets Suspended

Washington SmallMichigan SmallSunday’s game between the Michigan Gray Wolves and the Washington Galaxy was expected to be a marquee matchup, an early test of skill between two strong teams that might end up facing each other in the Finals.  While the game itself was less competitive than expected (Michigan cruised to a 5-2 win), it turned out to be a memorable contest for other reasons.  Galaxy D Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom turned the game into an MMA match, and wound up receiving the league’s first suspension as a result.

bruce-hogaboom
Bruce “Boom Boom” Hogaboom

“It’s official,” quipped Washington coach Rodney Reagle after the game.  “Boom Boom retains his belt as the heavyweight champion of the SHL.”

The game was chippy from the beginning: the Galaxy and Wolves are both physical teams, and both seemed eager not to let the other push them around.  “Our identity is strength,” said Michigan LW Vladimir Bersuchko.  “We win when we dominate the physical battles.  We are not afraid of hard checks and aggressive play.”

Beruschko’s “aggressive play” seemed a little too aggressive in the eyes of the Washington bench.  “There’s a line between playing hard and playing dirty,” said Galaxy C Eddie Costello.  “Vlad was way over that line, and the refs weren’t doing a damn thing about it.”  It infuriated the Galaxy that the Wolves winger had been whistled for only one minor penalty over the first two periods.

During the second intermission, Hogaboom asked Reagle to put him on the ice against Beruschko.  “Bruce said if the refs weren’t going to do something about it, he would,” said the Galaxy coach.

Less than a minute into the third period, Beruschko violently checked Washington RW Jefferson McNeely into the boards.  Hogaboom skated over to Beruschko and challenged him.  The two proceeded to trade blows, with Hogaboom getting the better end of things by most accounts.  Both players were assessed five-minute majors for fighting.

Later in the period, Wolves D Bjorn Tollefson took a run at Galaxy LW Walt Camernitz, dumping him into the Washington bench with a high check.  The play outraged Hogaboom, who wasn’t on the ice at the time.  He leapt over the boards and charged at Tollefson, fists flying.

The resulting battle was wilder and more physical than Hogaboom’s earlier tussle with Beruschko, and the Galaxy defender wound up on the ice throwing right crosses to Tollefson’s head.  This time, in addition to matching majors, Hogaboom wound up with an additional instigation minor.  Reagle said that he had to talk the officials out of ejecting Hogaboom from the game.

After the game, the Galaxy enforcer was defiant.  “It’s like frontier justice,” said Hogaboom.  “You let law enforcement try to handle things.  If they won’t do it, you’ve got to take matters into your own hands.  [The Wolves] were getting away with murder out there, and the referees didn’t do nothing.  We had to put a stop to it, and I stepped up.”

The SHL held a disciplinary hearing about the incidents on Tuesday, after which Hogaboom was suspended for one game.  “The SHL is supposed to be family-friendly entertainment,” said Commissioner Perry Mitchell.  “When a player turns a game into a spaghetti Western, as Commissioner I have the responsibility to take action.  The second one in particular, when Hogaboom came off the bench to fight, that was a serious problem.  That’s how a fight can degenerate into mayhem, and I don’t want to see that.  Combine that with his lack of remorse, and a suspension was my only option.

When informed of the suspension, Hogaboom said it was “the cost of doing business” and added, “If the refs had done their damn jobs, this never would have happened.”

The Galaxy and Wolves face off again at Cadillac Place next month.

Green’s Violence Comments Spark Controversy

Dakota RapidsDakota Rapids RW Trevor Green stirred up some controversy this week by arguing that hockey should become a less violent sport.  “The Europeans are way ahead of us on this,” said Green in an interview after Dakota’s game against the Michigan Gray Wolves.  “To me, the real beauty of hockey is in great puck-handling, beautiful passes, speed and momentum.  It’s like ballet on ice, really.  Instead, here we have smaller ice and we glorify big hits and fights.  It’s less athletic, frankly.”

Trevor Green
Trevor Green

Green’s comments were criticized on two fronts.  First, many perceived the comments as a shot at the Gray Wolves, who are famous for their physical style.  Predictably, Michigan’s players took offense.

“To me, that sounds like loser whining,” said Gray Wolves RW Gordon Lunsford.  “I’m sure [the Rapids] get frustrated because they can’t beat us.  But the game is the game, and the rules are the rules.  If you don’t want to bang bodies, fine.  But don’t go crying about it when you lose.”

Michigan D Bjorn Tollefson added, “I’m European, and I love big hits.  If [Green] doesn’t, he should go to the European league.”

Other players suggested that Green wanted the game to focus less on hitting because of his short stature (he stands only 5’8”).  Meanwhile, others focused on the ballet reference in his remarks, and made the sadly expected jokes about Green’s masculinity.  When the Rapids faced Michigan against later in the week, the fans at Cadillac Place serenaded Green with chants of “Tinkerbell,” and several fans held up signs depicting Green in a pink tutu or making bad jokes about his sexuality.

These taunts and posters drew the ire of Rapids coach Harold Engellund.  The coach was nicknamed “Harry the Hit Man” during his playing days for his hard-hitting style, but he stood up for his player.

Harold Engellund
Harold Engellund

“Hey, look, I love a good fight as much as the next guy,” Engellund said.  “I believe in good heavy hockey, and I’d like to see more of it out of our guys, to tell you the truth.  But Trevor feels differently, and he’s entitled to his opinion.  Great passing and puck-handling are fun to watch, too, in a different way.  We’ve got more of that now than when I came up, and that’s a good thing.  It’s better than when you had enforcers who could barely skate just looking to start fights.  The game is more skilled now.”

Engellund particularly decried the sexist taunts directed at Green.  “All those fans calling Trevor a fairy and a sissy, that’s gotta stop.  That kind of talk has no place in today’s game.  There are a lot of women hockey fans, and gay fans too.  How do think they feel when you’ve got idiots in the stands screaming at a guy and calling him Tinkerbell?  The next time I hear any of that stuff, whoever says it is getting a punch in the mouth from me.”